30 square miles. 17 dead. More than 400 homes damaged. The tragic tale of deadly California mudslides
2018-01-11 20:20 UTC by USA TODAY
Cal Fire puts the affected area at 30 square miles. Twenty-eight people injured, eight missing. Sixty-five homes confirmed destroyed and more than 400 damaged.
And rescue teams are still slogging through the mud, hunting for the missing and assessing the damage. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, a Montecito resident ordered to evacuate before the mudslides began, discussed the tragedy Thursday on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“There are families missing, there are people who are missing family members,” DeGeneres said. “They’re finding people and bodies and I mean, you hear the word mudslide and you have no idea the impact that it has … (Montecito) is beyond recognizable.”
The tale that led to these tears is nothing new in Southern California. First came the fires, and the Thomas Fire last month in this area west of Los Angeles was the biggest ever recorded in the state.
The last embers were barely extinguished when the rains came. Residents of some communities were ordered out in advance as authorities feared the hillsides, left bare of vegetation by the fire, would be swept down onto homes below.
Before dawn Tuesday, the worst fears were realized. By the time the rains moved on, dozens of boulders sat atop muddied tree branches on Olive Mill Road, where at least three homes were blasted to their foundations when the debris suddenly roared in.
Some residents watched as crews tried to clean up the area, still in disbelief. Marco Farrell, 45, said he was two blocks away when he saw the slide descending on Olive Mill Road.
“I heard rumbling and ran for my life,” he said. “Literally. Ran for my life.”
A wall of water carrying uprooted trees and boulders flowed like a river through the residential street. About a block up from Farrell’s home, firefighters were helping Devon Crail and his wife, Tiare, retrieve items from his parents’ house.
About 20 large tree branches had formed a dam on the driveway, blocking mud from passing his parents’ cars. The trees and mud knocked down a fence and hedges that surrounded the front of the property.
Crail said credited a retaining wall with saving the home from more serious damage. He said his parents called 9-1-1, then waited.
“They were told to shelter until they heard a knock at the door,” Crail said.
Montecito is home to many Hollywood stars, and they were feeling the pain. Jeff Bridges tweeted that his home was “severely damaged” but that his family was safe. He joined the chorus of gratitude for the tireless work of first responders.
“We are heartbroken over the loss of lives in our community,” Bridges tweeted. “Your prayers and best wishes are most appreciated.”
Oprah Winfrey, speaking on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, said while walking around she saw some of her neighbors homes were “gutted,” while others are “gone, just gone.”
She said as her house was positioned on a knoll, she felt secure and that despite being informed she wouldn’t have water or gas, she feels grateful.
“I am blessed and I am going to do whatever I can for the rest of the community,” she said, “and we all just love the firefighters.”
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